Fascinated with samurai culture and classic epic movies from The 60’s, animator Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Lab, Primal, Hotel Transylvania series) fresh from creating Dexter’s Lab, developed a series about a samurai under the alias Jack, who’s transported by his nemesis Aku to the future, he must return to his own time in the hopes of restoring humanity from both past, present and future. The premise I’m referring to is a cartoon I used to watch growing up and it’s one of my favorite shows of all time none other than “Samurai Jack.”
Samurai Jack’s first season officially aired in 2001. The show became an instant hit among television critics and viewers alike. Samurai Jack later spawned three seasons running from 2001-2004. Thirteen Years Later, the fifth and final season finally aired on Adult Swim concluding the show’s story.
The Mandolorian’s upcoming second season will stream on Disney Plus a day before Halloween. What do Samurai Jack & Mando both have in common? They honor a code, strong silent types, risk their lives to save somebody during a quest, true identity is never given just to name a few.
Today’s review doesn’t contain no important SPOILERS. I’ll give newcomers a chance to watch the series.
The Entire Season
Mystical: Phil LaMaar (one of my favorite actors) did a fantastic job for his voiceover performance as the titular character.
The late Mako also did a fantastic job for his voiceover performance as Aku.
Several well known voice actors including Tom Kenny, Rob Paulsen, Grey DeLisle, Jennifer Hale, John DiMaggio & Mark Hamill have guest roles. They all did a great job for their respective performances.
Genndy Tartakovsky did an excellent job building the show’s mythology, narrative, characters & unique episodes.
Animation still holds up. It establishes the action, characters and world building.
Action Sequences are kinetic, fast, frenetic with anything Jack stumbles upon deadly opponents.
Soundtrack is very memorable to get your blood pumping for more action.
The show is influenced by the works of Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, George Miller, David Lean & Stanley Kubrick. You can tell some of their signature trademarks are used. Genndy has a good taste in cinema.
Most of the episodes heavily rely on action with less dialogue. An innovative technique never before seen on Cartoon Network. Genndy must’ve taken notes from Clint Eastwood movies only focusing on action, looking at the lead character’s expressions and body language to keep a scene flowing.
Outside cinematic inspirations, Frank Miller is another important influence. His graphic novel “Rōnin” is a primary inspiration.
Jack’s personality is based on Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name from “The Dollars Trilogy.” Both characters never say their true identity, are strong silent types, soft-spoken, willing to risk the lives of individuals and very skilled with their signature weapon. Clint has a revolver while Jack has a katana.
Each episode is unique in its own way. Unlike most cartoons Samurai Jack doesn’t revert back to the old drawing board as in Dexter’s Lab whether Dexter meets fate worse than death, Dexter is brought back without no further explanation. I prefer a show that doesn’t reset the status quo, I want a season to continue an event’s cause & effect to become permanent.
A few episodes expands on the show’s lore giving more depth to characters Jack encounters.
Although the show aired on Cartoon Network. It features themes including Dystopia, Slavery, Honor, Hatred, Betrayal, Manipulation, and the classic Good VS. Evil Trope. Each one was handled maturely.
Will.i.am (The Black Eyed Peas) provides the theme song.
Cursed: To be honest, I couldn’t find no flaws from all episodes. I’m giving each one an Extra Point as they managed to keep me entertained.
Episode I-III/The Premiere Movie
Strong: The Opening Scene immediately sets up the series.
We get to witness the main lead going through training on how he became a skilled fighter, strategist, hunter, stealthy. I’ll give his montage training an Extra Point thanks to no dialogue spoken. This is one of the best examples to grow your main character using the staple, “Show, Don’t Tell.”
Jack assists a group of talking dogs to combat a hoard of beetle like robots.
Jack’s fight with beetle robots is arguably the signature scene in my opinion which is my favorite part of The Premiere Movie.
Rob Paulsen (the voice of Yakko from Animaniacs) voices a blue dog.
Weak: No flaws spotted
Episode IV/Jack, The Woolies And The Chritchellites
Big: We get to learn about The Woolies’ backstory.
The fourth episode explores slavery. It’s not used in bad taste, it was used maturely.
Tom Kenny provides the voice of a species called, “The Chritchellites.” The way they talk, remind me of Squidward from “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Tom obviously voices SpongeBob.
Small: No issues spotted.
Episode V/Jack In Space
High: Jack is recruited by a group of astronauts to escort them to leave Earth.
Tom Kenny & Jennifer Hale voice astronauts.
Jack acquires a spacesuit to aid the astronauts on their mission to escape Earth.
Low: No issues present.
Episode VI/Jack And The Warrior Woman
Brave: Jack meets a mysterious woman. They join forces to embark on a quest.
A Plot Twist occurs near the end of the sixth episode.
Coward: No con found.
Episode VII/Jack And The Three Blind Archers
Bullseye: Jack must find a way to defeat three archers.
A wishing well plays a pivotal role in this episode.
Jack’s battle with the three archers was intense.
Miss: Nothing wrong was discovered.
Episode VIII/Jack VS. Mad Jack
Good: The seventh episode’s title is a double reference to “Mad Max” and Jack’s evil counterpart.
When Jack enters a bar, song playing from a jukebox sounds an awful lot like “Soul Bossa Nova.” The theme song from “Austin Powers.”
A bounty hunter resembles Chewbacca.
Jack battles his evil counterpart born from Aku’s magic and Jack’s anger.
Evil: Not a bad trace spotted.
Episode IX/Jack Under The Sea
Up: The ninth episode’s title is a reference to the song “Under The Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.”
The three aquatic creatures are listed in the credits as Guiness, Ringo & Connery. A reference to Alec Guiness, Ringo Star & Sean Connery.
Mark Hamill voices Guiness. As you may know, Mark with the late Alec Guiness in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Jack travels to in underwater city in the hopes of finding a time machine to return home.
Down: No issue spotted.
Episode X/Jack And The Lava Monster
Hot: Jack ensures a series challenges from a powerful warrior turned lava monster.
Every obstacle Jack dodges reminds me of the “Dark Souls” series. As you play, the games are extremely hard to overcome.
The monster has a backstory on what he has become.
Cold: Nothing bad happened.
Episode XI/Jack And The Scotsman
Strong: Jack encounters a Scotsman. After a lengthy argument and a long battle, they are shackled together so they must find a way remove it or something as they’re on the run from bounty hunters.
John DiMaggio (voice of Bender from Futurama) provides the voice of The Scotsman.
Fun Fact: Both Phil LaMaar & John DiMaggio voiced Hermes Conrad & Bender on Futurama.
Jack & The Scotsman’s chemistry is similar to “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.” Both pairs work together as they are wanted by pursuers.
One of the bounty hunters resembles Sheriff Buford T. Justice from “Smokey & The Bandit.”
Weak: No flaws present.
Episode XII/Jack And The Gangsters
Made: Jack goes undercover as a gangster in order to get close to Aku.
The leader of the gangsters’ voice is based on Edward G. Robinson or Chief Wiggum from “The Simpsons.”
The gangsters wear color coded costumes associated with their black suits. A reference to the jewel thieves’ codenames from “Reservoir Dogs.” Even one of the mob guys resembles Steve Buscemi’s character, Mr. Pink.
Earth, Wind & Fire are referenced as mystical elements.
Whack: No flaws discovered.
Episode XIII/Aku Fairy Tales
Entertaining: This episode solely focuses on Aku fed up with Jack as the center of attention, invites a couple of kids over to a social gathering with him telling traditional Fairy Tales using Jack as the main villain, due to the fact Aku has a deep seated hatred towards Jack.
I laughed so hard about Aku’s stories with Jack as a bad guy. Every story with Jack depicted evil deserves a bunch of Extra Points. Plus, seeing a bad guy version of Jack is a callback to the episode Mad Jack.
A Kubrick film is referenced.
Josh Peck (half of Drake & Josh) has a voiceover role. I’m not kidding. Look it up on his IMDb page.
Boring: No single issue was spotted.
The Final Verdict: A, FOR APEX!
Samurai Jack’s first season still holds up very well. All the stuff I’ve listed, indicates one of my all time favorite shows remains as a timeless classic. If you grew up watching Samurai Jack like me back when Cartoon Network was at the peak of its prime, i strongly recommend the first season as an introduction to your kids. Don’t forget the entire series. You can find all episodes on HBO MAX.